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The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1963

August 28, 1963 is considered to be a prominent date for the history of America. It was the turning point for the Civil Rights Movement. It was the day when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place, and millions of black people were inspired to fight for their rights. It was a peaceful demonstration with impelling speeches of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech sounded as the gospel for many Americans. The March for Jobs and Freedom has been associated with King’s speech till our days. This speech was presented before 250,000 people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial (Shull, 2000, p. 40). It contains the words making people think over the equality in the world. It was the speech making millions of Americans believe in the bright future of equal people (Carson, Shepard & Young, 2002, p. 75).

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The March for Jobs and Freedom was organized by religious organizations and workers for the sake of human rights. It was estimated that 75-80% of the participants were black people. The rest were the representatives of non-black minorities or white people. This march was organized by A. Philip Randolph, who was the president of the Negro American Labor Council. A. Philip Randolph was known as the fighter for civil rights and equality. He planned such march for 1941, but the year of 1963 seemed to be more favorable for such march due to the activity of the Civil Rights Movement. More than that, it was the year of the 100th anniversary since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Randolph planned to mobilize 100,000 supporters to organize march against segregation in 1941 but his idea was not realized as far as the president Roosevelt prevented it by the signing of the Fair Employment Act (1963, n.d.). Randolph realized that his attempt to organize a march was effective. Such marches were a rare phenomenon at that days and they seemed to be threatening for the government. The politicians were afraid that such marches might be the reason of many victims and damages. Great amounts of politically minded people were the menace for the politicians.

Although not so many marches were organized in Washington, there were cases when such marches caused victims. For example, General Douglas MacArthur organized the march in 1932 supporting veterans of the World War l. Bayonets, sabers and tear gas were used during that march and there were two killed and hundreds of wounded people (1963, n.d.). It should be noted that all marchers organized before were supported basically by white people.

The year of 1962 made Randolph think over the organization of the march of black people as a protest against job inequality, and he said about his idea to Rustin. Randolph was known as the main initiator of the march while many leaders and politicians took place in this march too. James Farmer who was the president of the Congress of the Racial Equality, Roy Wilkins, who was the president of the NAACP, John Lewis, known as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. Despite the protests burnt in Birmingham, the government did not make any actions to support black people (Shull, 200, p. 40). Therefore, Randolph as well as King was purposive to organize a march as the only method to attract the attention of the government to this burning issue of racial inequality. King expressed his idea in the following words: “We are on a breakthrough. We need a mass protest… to unite in one luminous action all of the forces along the far flung front” (1963, n.d.). King, Rustin and Randolph united their forces for this struggle for social equality and brotherhood. Their main aim was to disturb the government and make them think over the problem.

President Kennedy decided to meet the leaders of the march, the so-called “Big Six” in the Civil Rights Movement after he had known about their plan. This “Big Six” group consisted of Jim Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis, Dr. King, Roy Wilkens and Whitney Young. The name of “Big Six” for civil rights was entitled to them by the press. Although Young and Wilkens gave in their decision after the conversation with the president, Randolph, Farmer, King and Lewis were determined to realize their plan.

It seemed to the politicians that this plan failed to be realized without the support of Wilkens and Young. Wilkens, the leader of NAACP, did not want to be the participant of the demonstration of civil disobedience. The primary idea to mobilize 100,000 participants was difficult to realize without the support of NAACP as far as it was necessary a lot of transport means to gather all marchers. Without NAACP financing and their chapters across the country this idea seemed to be unreal.

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This march was expected to be the largest one in the American history. Washington Daily News described that march in the following words: “The general feeling is that the Vandals are coming to sack Rome. One small disturbance could set off a wave of mob violence” (1963, n.d.). Large amounts of transport means and people gathered in Washington on August 28. It was counted more than 2,000 buses, 21 trains and even 10 airlines. The marchers went from the Washington Monument and ended to the Lincoln Memorial where leaders delivered their speeches.

There were 10 basic demands of the March on Washington. The first demand covered the main problem of the inequality of civil rights. They demanded an equal access to all public facilities, the right for accommodation, the right to vote and the right for education. Black people did not have these rights and this march was the effective method to make the government come to terms. Other demands touched upon such burning issues as the abolition of Federal Funds, desegregation of all schools, unemployment of black people, the level of wage and living, equal rights for working places, discrimination by the government, employers, trade unions and employment agencies.

Every representative of organizations supported this march took the floor at the Lincoln Memorial. The greatest performance was Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” that was considered to be the symbolic one for that march. The main idea of that speech was not only the equality of rights for all nations. Martin Luther King dreamed about the world without any prejudices and stereotypes, the world without conflicts where people are brothers and sisters to each other (King lll, 2010). His ideals were equality, respectfulness to each other, nonviolence and peace. His speech was considered to be “a social gospel” inspiring people for actions (King, 2007).

The march was not supported by every representative of the Civil Rights Movement. There were points of view that it might spoil the reputation of the movement or cause violence and damages. It was very surprising for everyone especially for papers and newscasters that that march ended peacefully. The participants of the march considered it to be the expression of support of a civil rights bill presented by Kennedy’s team. Martin Luther King considered this march as a good way to attract attention to the burning issues of the society including economic issues and racial inequality (River, 2012). More than that, there were people who considered this march to be a political trick to support Kennedy’s team.

Despite all assumptions, this march was the greatest one and it attracted the attention of mass media. William Thomas in his work “Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle” points out: “Over five hundred cameramen, technicians, and correspondents from the major networks were set to cover the event. More cameras would be set up than had filmed the last Presidential inauguration. One camera was positioned high in the Washington Monument, to give dramatic vistas of the marchers” (Thomas, 2004).

This greatest march had a number of consequences. First of all, it influenced the participants themselves. They were afraid to take part in this march as far as there were no such large marches before. Nevertheless, they were able to do everything for the sake of freedom and equality. There were those people who felt very exciting to take part in such historical event that promised to be very important for the history of America. People were peacefully minded. They wanted just to have what they have the right for. Lerone Bennet expresses the feelings of the participants in the following words: “The participants knew that [even] if the march had changed no votes in Congress or no hearts in America that it had changed them… men and women would look back on this day and tell their children and their grandchildren: “There was a march in the middle of the twentieth century, the biggest demonstration for civil rights in history – and I was there” (1963, n.d.). People felt that they were not alone. They understood that they were powerful and the realization of their dream was not far from them. King’s speech “I have a dream” as well as the speeches of other leaders inspired them to believe that one day they would become free and equal. That march was very important for many black people and changed the life of many white ones. It was noticed that many white people changed their attitude to the black ones after King’s speech “I have a dream” (River, 2012).

Nevertheless, that march did not influence everyone especially strict Kennedy’s staff and mass media that made a show from this action. John Lewis described the attitude of mass media: “Their stories portrayed the event as a big picnic, a hootenanny combined with the spirit of a revival prayer meeting. Too many commentators and reporters softened and trivialized the hard edges of pain and suffering that brought about this day in the first place, virtually ignoring the hard issues that needed to be addressed, the issues that had stirred up so much trouble in my own speech” (1963, n.d.). Despite the fact that there were no considerable measures taken by the government after the March for Jobs and Freedom, it was considered to be the apogee of the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation, police brutality, unemployment for black people and racist violence were not the main concern of the government (Grimke, n.d.). However, that march was like a ray of hope for many black people and it gave them force to continue their struggle for their rights.

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It was the first demonstration broadcasted over the whole country and watched by millions of Americans despite their color of the skin. It was the first demonstration of social problems as they really were. Although, this march did not make great influences over politicians, it was the incarnation of dignity, equality, strength, discipline and brotherhood. It was the march without bloodshed and negative consequences. According to the national poll, nearly 75% of white people supported the black ones in their aims after this march. They were for equal education and job opportunities, the abolition of segregation in public places, integrated schools and good public facilities for black people. Two-third of the citizens supported Kennedy’s bill about the civil rights (Lopresti, 2005).

With the fear of Communism and the development of attacks on the fighters for the civil rights, more white people became the supporters of the Freedom Movement. The march for Jobs and Freedom and King’s 19-minute speech “I have a dream” provided the main ideals of the Movement for Freedom and changed the minds of many people including black minorities and white people.

Congress did not consider this march to be influential for their votes. They ignored the demands of the march and were satisfied that they had not to make a lot of efforts to suppress people’s discontent. Nevertheless, two major acts were enacted in two years after the march. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the main achievements of the Movement for Freedom (Klarman, 2004, p. 588). It was not only the march and King’s speech that forced the government to change the situation in the country. However, the march and “I have a dream” speech made these acts to be the desirable for both black and white people (Carson, Shepard & Young, 2002, p. 76). The march with such an inspiring King’s speech opened the ground for new acts supporting the rights of black people.

The march and King’s “I have a dream” speech favored the voting right for black people but it did not change any economic problems. There were only five representatives from black minorities in the House of Parliament. Unemployment still remained high and school integration was developed very slowly. The demands for dignified jobs and high wages were useless. These demands were still a dream for black people. Although, the march did not have a lot of effects in the economic sphere, it influenced the life of black people in America. Evelyn Cunningham recollected her feelings: “I must’ve cried for an hour and a half at one point during the march. Part of it was sheer happiness, part of it was pride, and part of it was my family. I’m steeped in my respect for my people. After the march, I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re almost there — God, was I wrong” (1963, n.d.).

There is no wonder that every American knows the words from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. It is the anthem of equality for the Americans. Despite different interpretations of this historical event, there is no doubt that it played a very important role for the Civil Rights Movement. We live during the time when black and white people have the equal rights and it may be considered to be the merit of those marchers, who had courage to come to the Washington Monument on August, 28, 1963.

Reference

1963, (n.d.). Web.

Carson, C., Shepard, K. & Young, A. (2002). A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Grimke, F. (n.d.). Equality of Rights for All Citizens Black and White Alike. Web.

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King, M. (2007). I have a dream. Guardian, 28(15).

King lll, M. (2010). Still striving for MLK’s dream in the 21st century. The Washington Post, 25 (10).

Klarman, M. (2004). From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lopresti, R. (2005). Which U.S. President Owned Slaves? Web.

River, C. (2012). American Legends: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: CharlesRiver Editors.

Shull, S. (2000). American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership. NY, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

Thomas, W. (2004). Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi.

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